Mudhoney Have Become Translucent, Don’t Care That They’re Not Pearl Jam

Seattle grunge pioneers release new album this week.

“Baby, can you dig the light?” Mudhoney singer Mark Arm asks amid a psychedelic swag of horns, bass and drums on the opening track of the Seattle band’s new album.

If you can’t dig the light, baby, you might as well press stop right there. The sprawling eight-minute epic is what Arm calls “the price of admission” to Since We’ve Become Translucent, Mudhoney’s first album in four years.

“It’s the measuring device we contrived to make sure you’re tall enough to take the ride,” Arm said. “It’s the tunnel that leads you into the album. If you submit yourself to the trip it provides, if you can dig the light, or even the idea of the light, you will find yourself in a good place to take on the rest of the record.”

Since We’ve Become Translucent is being released Tuesday by Sub Pop, which first introduced Mudhoney to the world in 1988. “It feels like we’re back in the house we grew up in, but the neighborhood has been cleaned up and the house has been remodeled,” Arm said. The album is Mudhoney’s first since the departure of founding bassist Matt Lukin, who retired from the group in 1999, shortly after the release of Tomorrow Hit Today (see “Mudhoney’s Lukin Quits Music; Band In Limbo” ). Guy Maddison, formerly of Bloodloss and Lubricated Goat, has taken over bass duties, bringing a more fluid and sometimes more jammy feel to Mudhoney’s sound.

“If I refer to Guy as the new guy, or say, ’Hey guy!’ when I see him, no one will know that it’s because I can’t remember his name,” Arm quipped. “Despite [that fact], he’s a good friend and a cool bass player.”

While abysmal lyrics marked much of Tomorrow, a certain newfound resolve is evident on its follow-up. There are still breakups, shakeups, letdowns and defeats, but there don’t seem to be any regrets. “Been rung through the wringer, and spit out a winner,” Arm proclaims on the bluesy “In the Winner’s Circle.” “Yeah, I’m a winner, ’cause I’ve got nothing left to lose.”

The song is “your basic splitsville number,” Arm said. “In it the protagonist chooses to make lemonade out of the lemons his ex took from him.”

While the album has its share of classic Mudhoney humor and raunchiness, Arm has his serious moments, such as on the political “Our Time Is Now.” “Given two lousy choices, we choose neither,” he sneers on the track.

“I view [it] as an external statement relating to the sneaky subversions, perversions of the constitution and curtailment of freedoms the current forces of power are trying to stitch into the American fabric,” Arm said.

Mudhoney — which also features guitarist Steve Turner and drummer Dan Peters — recorded Translucent in three different Seattle studios, working with different producers at each one. They kept a fairly slack schedule, entering the studio whenever they had three songs ready to put to tape. “We’ve been playing rock and roll music for a long time and we have a strong sense of who we are,” Arm said. “We don’t feel like we have anything to prove, anyone to impress, or any commercial goals. Our minds are free and, naturally, our asses follow.”

If a certain freedom comes with being the eternal underdogs, Mudhoney know all about it. Though they pioneered grunge rock, they never hit the big time. Then again, Mudhoney have outlived nearly all of their contemporaries. “I don’t think we have much in common sonically with the Seattle bands that entered the mainstream,” Arm said. “We sound dirtier, scummier and more f—-ed up. We know who we are and we’ve never had the desire or inclination to break into the top 40. I think that has helped us survive. We’ve never had big goals or aspirations. That is why we aren’t bitter, disillusioned and shriveled. All we ever wanted to do was play music that we love. We’ve managed to get away with that for a
long time.”

Yet Arm sounds as though he could be commenting, or even harping, on Mudhoney’s lack of recognition in the album’s closing epic, “Sonic Infusion.” “They think we don’t exist since we’ve become translucent,” he thunders on the track, which lends the album its title. But the song is about potential, not disregard. “It’s about our powers of subterfuge and the havoc we could create should we choose to unleash everything we’ve got,” Arm said. “It’s not a commentary, it’s a warning.”